Helping the helpers: Tom’s Door faces tough times | AspenTimes.com
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Helping the helpers: Tom’s Door faces tough times

Rosie McSwain of Tom's Door said people who seek aid "aren't taken through the third degree." Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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A midvalley charitable organization that’s usually delivering minor miracles was on the receiving end of one recently.Tom’s Door, which helps people cope with financial emergencies, ran out of money itself earlier this summer. Requests for aid have surged during the four years the program has existed while donations haven’t kept up with demand, said Rosie McSwain of Basalt, a founder and organizer of the relief group.”We had nothing a month ago, then we got a $5,000 donation,” she said. “That’s kind of what happens. God is just good.”The donation was even more intriguing because it came from a man known for his generosity. McSwain said she knew of the man’s reputation and she was tempted to call him but had put it off. “We don’t want to pester people,” she said.Lo and behold, while she was wrestling with the decision on whether to call, the $5,000 contribution came from that person, McSwain said. She called him to explain the coincidence. “I said you’ve got a halo over your head,” McSwain said.She didn’t identify the contributor, honoring his wishes.Despite the temporary fix, Tom’s Door is always in need of contributions. McSwain started the organization after moving to the valley from Minnetonka, Minn., where the parish priest operated a similar program known as Arnie’s Door.McSwain and her husband, Frank, saw the need for such an effort in this valley. The idea, McSwain said, is to open doors by offering aid.

McSwain started Tom’s Door with the blessing of the three Toms who are priests at St. Mary of the Crown in Carbondale and St. Vincent in Basalt. They are Father Tom McCormick, the parish priest, and Father Tom Bradtke and Father Tom Dentici, who assist.Although the program is run through the Catholic churches, it is nondenominational. A person doesn’t have to belong to the parishes or even be Catholic to receive aid, McSwain stressed.The philosophy of the program is to help people, particularly the working poor, when they find themselves in times of financial trouble. Tom’s Door has helped with everything from travel expenses for Latinos who needed to return to Mexico for a family emergency to chipping in when valley newcomers must cough up the first and last months’ rent plus a security deposit for a pricey apartment.Father McCormick anticipates a growing need. “Look at all the cutbacks [in government-funded social programs],” he said. “Who’s going to pick it up?”Most but not all of the people who seek aid from Tom’s Door are on the lower end of the economic ladder. “I’m just happy this is assisting people who would otherwise be out on the streets,” he said.A.P., a midvalley resident, and his family were in financial dire straits last winter. He is a salesman who gets paid on commission and when his employer ran into difficulties, his paycheck suffered.As monthly natural gas bills soared to as high as $280 a month in their leased home, they fell behind. The utility company eventually demanded payment of the entire $987 bill plus a security deposit, according to A.P., who asked that just his initials be used.When he returned from a family emergency in another state in March, he found that the utility company had turned his gas off. Luckily, his wife and kids had stayed behind with family.

A.P. said it was hard to ask for help. “We didn’t feel like we were poor. Anywhere else in the country we weren’t,” he said.He heard about Catholic Charities in Glenwood Springs and eventually contacted them. They connected him with Tom’s Door, one of the primary relief efforts under the Catholic Charities umbrella.A.P. said his family received the help they needed from Tom’s Door, Catholic Charities and another agency to climb out of debt. Now their household budget has recovered.”They treated us with dignity,” A.P. said. “It was a wonderful experience.”Ditto for K.G., another midvalley resident who found herself in a financial jam last winter. She said she had a background in theater so she wasn’t able to build up a nest egg before coming to the Roaring Fork Valley.A medical situation and a tight economy prevented her from finding suitable employment so she was in danger of losing her apartment. “I was trying to pre-empt that notice that I was going to be evicted,” said K.G.She was steered toward Catholic Charities, which had Tom’s Door work with her landlord to pay her rent. K.G. got a job and got back on her feet.K.G. said she’s volunteered her time for good causes in the past, so she was willing to ask for help when she needed it. “I’ve given a lot so hopefully the universe was going to give back in return,” she said.

She urged people in need to “let go of their pride” and make the call for help. A.P. advised the same.McSwain said people who seek aid “aren’t taken through the third degree.” However, Catholic Charities does enough of a background search to make sure they aren’t being taken by professional freeloaders, said Father McCormick.Financial donations can be made to Tom’s Door, 0395 White Hill Road, Carbondale, CO 81623.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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